Off-grid office: saying ‘no thanks’ to pricey power
- January 2, 2013 – 3:51PM
- 29 reading now
Average national electricity prices will likely jump 37 per cent by 2014, according to the Australian Energy Commission.
The ratcheting hike may prompt you to dream about giving utility firms the flick by taking your business off-grid. Some entrepreneurs manage to go the whole way, or very nearly.
Meet environmentally-minded former financier Raj Ray: co-owner of the Silos Estate Winery in New South Wales’ Shoalhaven area. Today the estate Ray runs with his partner Sophie Cockayne borders on being 100 per cent self-sufficient: a dramatic change.
“When we took over this place in 2007, it was really a deeply unsustainable business,” Ray says. Determined to enact a transformation, he duly fitted 50 BP solar panels that absorb enough power to sustain the estate for most of the year.
Ray also crunched consumption, swapping halogen lighting for LED lighting and layering the estate with double insulation. Plus, he installed a 100,000-litre rainwater tank atop his hotel. The monster refit cost about $100,000, but now his water and energy bills are “tiny”, given how much power Silos needs to function, he says.
Next, addressing ground space, Ray – a three-time winner of the Premier’s Sustainability Awards – will fit about five high-efficiency 4-kilowatt wind turbines made by the Chinese firm Timar.
Fully installed, the turbines that only need a whisper of wind cost about $10,000 each and should pay themselves off within three years, Ray expects.
He pictures them powering eight planned houses as he expands his operation while striving to freeze – or even reverse – his carbon footprint.
His dream is to go “carbon-negative” – that is, cut more carbon than he creates.
Another high-achiever in the low carbon field, New South Wales restaurateur Philippe Pinson, runs the Drummoyne-based small business, Vatel, which won the 2009 City of Canada Bay Council Environmental Business Award.
As with Ray, Pinson’s green credentials are rooted in a range of strategic measures. For instance, Pinson says he has insulated Vatel’s roof and ceiling beyond mandatory building code terms.
He has also swapped his commercial fridge for a Danish Gram fridge, slashing output from 8 kilowatts per day to 2.7 kilowatts per day. Plus he has installed an efficient inverter air-conditioning system and deployed decorative energy-saving lighting pendants.
Now, driven by the prospect of rocketing electricity bills, Pinson is going solar. So, he has fitted the maximum number of panels he can, 15, for a total cost of $12,000. The panels – built by the brand he ranks the best on the market – Panasonic, save about 10 kilowatts per day, which he hopes will spell a cost saving of $200 each quarter.
“I’m going for money, basically,” he says, confident that he will hit his target in light of experience – already he has successfully fitted the same brand of panels on the roof of his house.
Eventually, Pinson plans to harness the power of lithium batteries so that he can store the energy he produces. Today, the total cost of embracing lithium would be prohibitive: $12,000, but – as is happening with solar – he predicts the price will plunge.
Meantime, it seems, solar remains your best sustainable bet. Pinson reckons you are better off investing in it and paying the loan than banking the money. Because electricity’s price will only rise, he adds, solar represents a sound long-term investment.
Solar dominates the sustainable scene, eclipsing a range of potent alternatives that may deserve more attention. Even manure has its uses, as proven by New South Wales “poop power” pioneers Michael and
The Beveridges, whose business, Blantyre Farms, lies near Young in NSW’s south-east, have gone the whole hog. The methane they extract from a sty-fed manure lagoon via a biogas generator lets them produce all the electricity they need – and more.
Instead of paying monthly electricity bills of $15,000 – their burden before – they now make $5,000 by piping spare power back to the grid.
Clearly, investment in renewable energy can boost your bottom line. It should broaden your client base, too, says Ray, who believes that a “sustainability story” has a marketing angle.
So does the DNA spiral design of his wind turbines, which are far from eyesores. In fact Ray says they look more interesting than solar panels, describing them as “very sculptural – they look quite beautiful”.